Placeholder Banner

President’s Joint Address to Congress Could Be Huge for Biotech Industry

February 28, 2017
“We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow."
- President Trump’s inaugural address, Jan. 20, 2017

President Trump has a chance to reset the national conversation tonight and operationalize his ambitious inaugural vision of using science and technology to solve our shared challenges.

Truthfully, I can’t think of another congressional address where leaders of the industry I represent – biotechnology innovation – have had so much on the line as we learn how we fit into the President’s governing agenda.

Tonight, we must get down to the business of the nation. The policy decisions our President makes and the legislative strategies he chooses are infinitely more consequential to our collective future than the endless fascination with his Twitter account and dining habits.

The biotech industry is in the midst of an unprecedented period of scientific breakthroughs that will offer America bold, new ways to solve our most serious health, economic, energy, and national security challenges.

Consider: Biotechnology companies are developing next-generation cures for a wide range of cancers and other deadly and serious diseases; vaccines to prevent the next Zika, Ebola, or bird flu outbreak; and products to address the growing threats of antibiotic resistance and bioterrorism.

Biotech companies are generating biofuels to power our vehicles and green bio-based products made from renewable feedstocks. Ag biotech companies are creating seeds that can withstand drought and insect damage so we can produce enough food to prevent hunger around the world.

Yet this is a contradictory time for the nearly 1.7 million Americans who work in the U.S. biotechnology industry. On the one hand, as globalization has reshuffled the economic deck for many American workers, our company’s scientists and other employees are proud to work in an industry where America’s status as a global leader is unquestioned. American biopharmaceutical companies make more new medicines than the rest of the world combined. Nonetheless, our entire industry is routinely vilified for the actions of a few outlier hedge funds masquerading as drug companies so they can exploit a lack of competition in their particular drug class to raise prices excessively. True innovators condemn this reprehensible behavior. The good news: There’s reasonable legislation moving through the House of Representatives right now to help fix that problem.

Still, many in the media continue to wrongly perpetuate the myth that general drug pricing trends are “out of control.” They tabulate their data using pharmaceutical list prices rather than the net prices actually paid after massive industry discounts and rebates. Three different reports out this year, using government actuary and private-sector data, show that spending growth for new medicine last year dipped into the low single digits. In other words, drug prices are actually growing at a rate of 2 to 5 percent – consistent with general health care inflation – directly contradicting the current media narrative. Talk about fake news.

Some politicians have proposed a government takeover of drug pricing. Others believe we should give up on setting the international gold standard for safety and efficacy by importing foreign drugs and foreign price controls. What they fail to understand is that our global leadership in biomedical innovation is a product of a deliberate decision by our policy makers not to trade our free-market system for a regime of government price controls.

American drug companies make 57 percent of the world’s new medicines because there’s no government agency ordering us to be unprofitable. If the Bernie Sanders political wing has its way, we will join European nations who’ve decided to make today’s drugs cheaper at the expense of financing tomorrow’s cures.

We all hear so much about Big Pharma, but so many of today’s breakthroughs are happening at Small Pharma. Biotech companies are overwhelmingly small start-up and early-stage firms that rely heavily on private capital to advance promising research. Only later do these innovative small businesses partner with larger pharmaceutical companies to conduct the complex and expensive clinical trials required to gain regulatory approval to bring new therapies to market.

In the drug development sector alone, there are more than 1,500 innovative companies in the United States.  Collectively, these companies – large and small – invest more than $70 billion annually in U.S.-based biomedical research and development efforts. That’s more than twice the entire budget of the National Institutes of Health, which focuses mostly on basic medical research, not creating actual medicines.

Of the 5,400 clinical research programs currently being run worldwide, more than a third are targeting different forms of cancer and more than half are being led by U.S. companies. Additionally, more than 70 percent of medicines in the Food and Drug Administration pipeline right now are potential “first in class” therapies, meaning they represent an entirely new approach to treatment.

Imagine a day when we can treat cancer without piping an ounce of chemotherapy through a patient’s body. The science is unstoppable. Biotechnology is our future. The only thing that can stop us is bad policy that stifles investment and innovation.

Investors know biotech is an enormous risk, but they also know the reward for success will be commensurate with that risk. The American system is the global gold standard because we incentivize the massive risk-taking needed to make medicines that save lives. It takes our companies, on average, $2.6 billion in private investment and more than a decade to secure the approval of a new medicine.

There’s that old saying: You never want to see laws or sausage getting made. I would add medicine to the list. It’s a long, expensive process that ends in failure about 90 percent of the time. America’s entire biomedical innovation ecosystem is funded by the 10 percent of clinical programs that ultimately get approved. The profits from their success fund future research; no industry in America spends more on R&D.

It would be wonderful if President Trump said tonight that part of making America great again is protecting and empowering the declining number of American industries that are still global leaders. Biotechnology is at the top of that list. Our industry is growing jobs at a rate double the national average. We pay our people family-sustaining salaries well above the national average. And we give our world the best hope to overcome famine, pestilence and environmental damage.

Empowering the biotechnology industry won’t just help the President honor the promise on millions of red baseball caps across the nation. It will help us heal, feed and fuel the world.